Integration at What Cost? Research into What Refugees Have to Say About the Integration Process

Ruth Farrugia

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When refugees leave their country they are frequently assumed to be prepared to forgo their culture and history and embrace that of the receiving country. Scant attention is paid to the trauma caused by expecting or implicitly forcing refugees to shut the door on their former life in embracing a new alternative. This paper looks at the research carried out by the IntegraRef project which aimed to develop an understanding of refugee integration from a range of different perspectives. The main purpose of the research was to gain some insight into how local stakeholders, refugees/asylum seekers and those with subsidiary protection, and host communities themselves, perceive the phenomenon of integration, and what they see as evidence of its achievement. Although there were a number of difficulties in accessing information, the overall results seem to indicate a clear expectation that refugees are to assimilate into the host community wherever possible. Where this is not feasible, because of issues such as skin colour, language and religion, the refugees, service providers and local population affirmed that problems ensue. This paper seeks to report the perceptions described in the project by highlighting the way such perceptions frequently run parallel to each other and rarely cross. Responses showed how people could easily live alongside one another having no idea of the aspirations and hopes of others. Finally, while the need to integrate may be vital to a minority of refugees, it should not stand as a requirement for all. The conclusion invites states to consider alternative options when entering into the integration discourse.

The article is based on the findings of the IntegraREF project’s Malta National Report. The IntegraREF project was a fifteen month research study of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Rome, the University of Malta, the Berlin Institute of Social Comparative Research in Germany and Queen Margaret University of Edinburgh for the United Kingdom. Acknowledgments are due to the researchers involved in the study, Marouska Cilia Barbara who carried out the field research and Amanda Muscat who completed the data analysis.

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:

Farrugia, Ruth. Integration at What Cost? Research into What Refugees Have to Say About the Integration Process. IJMS: International Journal on Multicultural Societies. 2009, vol.11, no.1, pp. 51-74, UNESCO. ISSN 1817-4574. www.unesco.org/shs/ijms/vol11/issue1/art3

About the author:

Ruth Farrugia is an advocate and senior lecturer in the Faculty of Laws at the University of Malta. She studied at the University of Malta, University of Strasbourg, Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies and Metropolitan Ecclesiastical Tribunal. She is a former consultant to Malta’s deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Social Policy, the Social Affairs Committee in Parliament and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Legal advisor to the Commissioner for Children and country expert to the Comparative European Family Law Commission, the Common Core in Family Law Group, the PRMIII Experts Group of the European Commission and Council of Europe Expert for the Child Access to Justice Initiative, she has published widely in the field of child law, family law, asylum law and human rights.

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